Wait time

Consider the impact of wait time.

Wait time is the duration after a teacher poses a question and before an answer is provided. Wait time allows each student to begin to formulate their own response to the question. Increasing wait time provides teachers and students with additional time to think, raising the quality of class discussion and reducing wait time disparities by student race and gender.

  • Increase wait times for all students. Make a conscious effort to pause for at least 3 seconds after posing a question. Learn to be comfortable with silence.
  • Use longer wait times as well, informing students of your plan. Ask a question and then tell students you are going to give them a minute or two to sketch out their answers before you ask for responses. Or, give the question at the end of class and tell students you will ask about their answers during the next class. Taking time pressure off can reduce the negative impact of stereotype threat.
  • Be mindful of differential teacher-student interactions in the classroom. Communicate inclusively, and, when you ask a question, look at all students. Avoid calling on the first hand that goes up. Codify and track participation in class discussions to help you improve your craft.
  • Add think-pair-share, small group discussions, student presentations, and individual meetings. Provide students with an array of different kinds of opportunities to speak.

NB: This section does not aim to present a comprehensive review of the relevant literature.

Studies have shown that teachers devote different amounts of wait time to men versus women students and students of minority race versus white students. Sadker and Sadker (1994) investigate the effect of differential wait times on participation in the class discussion, hypothesizing that longer pauses after questions convey a “vote of confidence” for the student’s answer and, thus, motivate participation. Their observation of undergraduate classrooms finds that teachers unconsciously gave white men students more wait time than women students and students of color. Perhaps teachers were subtly and accidentally reinforcing feelings of stereotype threat when not pausing as long for underrepresented students.

Increasing wait time to 3 or more seconds results in positive effects for both teacher and student, though a typical teacher waits between 0.7 and 1.4 seconds after a question before beginning to talk again (Rowe 1987, Stahl 1994, Swift and Gooding 1983). Teachers who implement a longer wait time also tend to ask higher quality questions, vary their questioning strategies, and ask questions that challenge students to use more complex information processing skills. Increasing wait time increases the length and accuracy of student responses, increases the number of appropriate responses volunteered by students, and increases academic achievement.

Cited works

Rowe, M. (1987). Wait-time: Slowing down may be a way of speeding up. American Educator, 11, 38-43.

Sadker, D., Sadker, M. (1994) Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls. Toronto, ON: Simon & Schuster Inc.

Stahl, R. (1994). Using “think-time” and “wait-time” skillfully in the classroom. ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education. ED370885. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED370885.pdf

Swift, J. Nathan, and C. Thomas Gooding. 1983. “Interaction of wait time feedback and questioning instruction on middle school science teaching” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol. 20, Issue 8, pp.721-730

Tobin, Kenneth. “The Role of Wait Time in Higher Cognitive Level Learning.” Review of Educational Research. American Educational Research Association, 1 Jan. 1987. Web. 27 Oct. 2011. http://rer.sagepub.com/content/57/1/69